Meet the Winners: Angel Rodriguez

Katy Otto,
Angel Rodriguez Headshot

Angel Rodriguez has served as the co-founder and Executive Director of Avenues for Justice (AFJ) for forty five years. AFJ is a community-based organization in New York City that provides alternatives to incarceration to 500 justice impacted young people, ages 13-24, each year. He works with youth and young people in the same community he grew up in and still lives in today on the Lower East Side. In 1999, he established a second community center in Harlem after having first set up AFJ’s flagship center LES, with courthouse offices in the Manhattan Criminal Court building. This visionary work provides hundreds of young people each year with access to second chances.  

Angel received an honorary law degree from the CUNY Law School at Queens College. He also received Robin Hood Foundation’s Hero Award with two other community organizers. District Attorney Alvin Bragg selected Angel to serve on the Juvenile Justice Sub-committee of his transition advisory team until his inauguration in January 2022. The transition team was charged with producing a document that outlines recommendations for short, mid, and long-term implementation. 

During the 1980's, Angel also collaborated with (ret.) Hon. Judge Michael Corriero to launch the Youth Part model in Manhattan which prosecutes youth separately from adults and promotes alternative to incarceration services. Young people are diverted from jail to AFJ and spend up to five days a week at one of the organization’s locations where they receive case management and enrichment services for job readiness, education, and mental health wellness care. Not only is the program effective, but it is also a good investment – 94% of AFJ’s court-involved participants are not reconvicted of a new crime within 3 years of enrolling in the program. Additionally, every $6,300 invested each year in a participant for court advocacy and wraparound services can help that young person avoid the $500,000 cost New York City spends incarcerating a juvenile annually. 


Instead of incarceration, Avenues for Justice’s experience and 45-year history of success show that AFJ participants need services to prevent them from being stigmatized with criminal records for the rest of their lives. Validated by neurological and psychological studies showing our brains do not fully mature until age 25, AFJ's approach has always been non-punitive. Angel and his team recognize that because their decision-making capability is not fully developed, young adults have a high capacity for rehabilitation and positive change. AFJ's HIRE Up program provides services for job readiness and workforce development, academic success, teen empowerment and advocacy training, legal rights and responsibilities understanding, digital and financial literacy and mental and physical health to keep NYC's court-involved and at-risk African American and Hispanic young people from further involvement with the criminal justice system.  


Angel’s “meet the moment” approach is far-reaching as he continues to personally advocate for young adults in the courtroom, handles an active caseload of Participants, while providing continuous Hispanic leadership.  


Our young people need opportunity and support to accomplish their goals. I co-founded Avenue for Justice (AFJ) 45 years ago to provide this support in a manner that’s rooted in community, respect, and a belief in their abilities. AFJ supports our Participants in court, in our programs, and with employment and education. When anyone visits Avenues for Justice, they almost always say the same thing – this feels like family. Most importantly, we hear the same from our Participants. They know we are all committed to providing them with a path forward to success.” 


Juvenile Law Center invites you to celebrate Angel Rodriguez along with fellow Leadership Prize recipients Elizabeth Scott, Laurence Steinberg, and Bryan Stevenson at the 2024 Leadership Prize, which will take place on Wednesday, May 8th, 2024 at 5:45pm ET. You can purchase tickets for the event here. Recipients of the Juvenile Law Center Leadership Prize are leading lights whose inspirational careers are beacons for future generations and whose work has substantially improved the lives of youth. Read more about our 2024 award recipients here.  


About the Expert

Katy Otto joined Juvenile Law Center in 2016. With a background in communications, development and government relations, she is responsible for the organization’s overall messaging strategy and implementation. She is passionate about youth justice, and committed to ensuring that the public learns about the challenges facing youth in the child welfare and justice systems.